Moving Out

Posted on October 18th, 2012 by

A blog post by Assistant Director Deborah Cardin.

On October 17, 2012, the JMM opened our newest original exhibition, Jews on the Move: Baltimore and the Suburban Exodus, 1945 – 1968. Exploring a seminal period in American Jewish history – the exodus of Jews from urban centers to newly established suburbs – Jews on the Move interprets the motivations and factors that led to Jewish settlement in the Northwest suburbs of Baltimore County in the post-war years.

 

Irene Siegel with children, 1959

In the years following WWII, Baltimore Jews, like so many other Americans, left behind close-knit urban neighborhoods in pursuit of the “American dream.” Within the span of a single generation, the Jewish community swiftly reconfigured itself and experienced a fascinating social, economic and cultural transformation. Jews on the Move explores the local angle of a national story of suburbanization through the eyes of developers, real estate agents, community institutions and organizations, synagogues, and of course the families who helped establish the suburbs of Northwest Baltimore.

Gilbert and Leslie Polt, c.1960

Louise’s Pizza, Liberty Road, 1963

Park Heights JCC, Jewish institutions followed the exodus out of the city. The opening of a suburban JCC on Park Heights Avenue in 1960 – in addition to the move of synagogues – helped families recreate Jewish enclaves in the suburbs.

What makes this exhibit project especially exciting is an innovative collaboration that resulted in its creation.  Jews On The Move was developed through a partnership between the JMM and The Johns Hopkins University (JHU). With generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The JHU Program in Museums and Society partners with local museums to take undergraduate students out of the classroom and give them hands-on museum experience. The JMM was delighted to be invited to participate in this program, and in the spring of 2012, staff and consultants from the JMM taught a course at JHU that involved students in the creation of “Jews on the Move.”

Because of our partnership with JHU, the exhibit opened on its Homewood Campus. In order to prepare for the opening, on Wednesday morning, several JMM staff members in addition to exhibit designer, Ken Falk, installed the panel exhibition in Hodson Hall. The exhibit consists of vinyl banners that are attached to collapsing metal poles that connect to one another making it easy to transport and install.

Exhibit designer Ken Falk unrolling the exhibit banners

JHU faculty member Elizabeth Rodini watches as Karen Falk and student Molly Martell raise the exhibit panels

At the exhibit opening on Wednesday pm, Katherine S. Newman, James B. Knapp Dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, welcomed guests. JHU students who participated in the course talked about their experience in researching and designing the exhibit. Guests mingled, enjoying refreshments and an opportunity to view the exhibit and share their own reminiscences of their family’s move to the suburbs.

Jews on the Move has been designed as a traveling exhibit and is available at no charge to hosting institutions. If you are interested in hosting this exhibit, contact Rachel Cylus at (410) 732-6400 x215 / rcylus@jewishmuseummmd.org. Also, be sure to check out the exhibit website www.jewsonthemove.org where you can send in your own suburban stories and photos.

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Becoming Pikesville

Posted on October 12th, 2012 by

By Research Historian Deb Weiner

Last weekend I volunteered on a political campaign in the swing state to the north. As I was sitting in the campaign office in Harrisburg, another group of Baltimore volunteers walked in. One of the women looked at me and said, “You look familiar.” She looked vaguely familiar to me as well. Neither of us could figure out how we knew each other until she offered, “I’m from Pikesville.” I responded, “Oh, I work at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Have you been there?” Turns out she used to work at the Associated Jewish Federation, and we probably met at some kind of Associated-related event.

To anyone from Baltimore, my response would not seem to be a non sequitur. That’s because saying “I’m from Pikesville” is virtually a substitute for saying “I’m Jewish,” but without the awkwardness of announcing your religious identity to a (near) total stranger. The fact is, Pikesville is home to 30 percent of Baltimore-area Jews, according to the most recent Associated Population Study. Even more pertinent, around four out of five Jews live in the northwest portion of the Baltimore metro area, from Upper Park Heights to Owings Mills and beyond, in an area that might realistically be termed “Greater Pikesville.”

Which brings me to the subject of this blog post. Next Wednesday, October 17, we are opening the traveling exhibition “Jews on the Move: Baltimore and the Suburban Exodus, 1945 to 1968.” The exhibition reveals how and why Jews became concentrated in the metro area’s northwest suburbs in the decades after World War II. It was a process that took only a single generation to complete, but remains a powerful fact of Baltimore Jewish life today, several decades later.

It’s a national story, but with a local twist—Baltimore Jews joined the rush to suburbia that occurred across America after World War II, but why they ended up in one particular section of the metro area is a complex tale with a lot of local nuances. Ironically, the exhibition does not really focus on Pikesville, because it wasn’t until the early 1980s that Pikesville beat out Randallstown as the suburb of choice for Jews within northwest Baltimore. What the exhibition does do is show how the “northwest exodus” became firmly established in those early years of suburbanization, leading to the settlement patterns we see today.

By the way, I should mention that the exhibition is opening not here at the JMM, but at Hodson Hall on the Johns Hopkins University campus, where it will be on view until December 17. We created the exhibition in partnership with students in JHU’s Museums and Society program, through a class that JMM staff taught last spring.  The students were from all over (California, New York, D.C. suburbs) but by the time the semester ended they could throw around terms like “Baltimore Beltway” and “Mandell-Ballow” with ease.

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And What About Ranch Dressing?

Posted on July 23rd, 2012 by

By Deb Weiner

We are in the midst of preparing a traveling exhibition that will explore the participation of Baltimore Jews in the great national rush to suburbia that occurred in the two decades after World War II. It’s called “Jews on the Move” and will open in October on the campus of Johns Hopkins University. JHU students helped develop the exhibit as part of a museum studies class they took last spring.

Marvin, our new director, took a look at the exhibition script earlier this week and questioned our use of the word “rancher” as shorthand for ranch house. Is it too slangy? Was it really in common use? “I’m from Chicago,” he said, “and I’ve never heard this term before.”

Jews on the Move

“I’m from Chicago too,” I replied, “and I’d never heard it either!” I started thinking, hmmm, maybe I better look into this. The word appears several times in the text, which was originally drafted by our guest curator Dean Krimmel, native Baltimorean and noted expert on all things Baltimore. I trusted Dean, but once the question had been raised it occurred to me that maybe, just every once in awhile, he might slip up.

From our upcoming exhibition.

So expert historian that I am, I googled the term “Baltimore rancher” to see what would happen. When the search page appeared on my screen, the results were so immediately conclusive I had to laugh. One Baltimore rancher after another being advertised in real estate listings. Apparently ranchers are so popular that the term was even used to advertise a “gorgeous 2nd floor end unit,” which seems to me to be stretching the definition beyond common sense. Everybody knows that a rancher (or “ranch house,” as Marvin and I would call it) is a detached, one-story home.

Jolly Rancher candies

Just to see what would happen, I googled “Chicago rancher.” The first item was a very interesting video about a rancher located about sixty miles outside Chicago, who supplied grass-fed beef to city restaurants. Check it out:  http:///vimeo.com/36095119. Unfortunately the next couple items reported his sudden death, shortly after the video came out. Then various items related to “Jolly Rancher” candies (which I had never heard of before), a high school team called the Ranchers, etc.

Baltimore ranch house. Image courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Industry.

My fact-checking was complete, but my curiosity was aroused. Is “rancher” like “hon” — one of those uniquely Baltimore quirks of language or style?  I started googling “Philadelphia rancher,” “Miami rancher,” etc. I discovered that as shorthand for ranch house, the word does seem to be in common use in the mid-Atlantic region. (Philly and Newark yes, Miami and Boston, not really. One Boston item, “Idaho Rancher Revealed as Gangster from Boston,” was pretty entertaining). But only in Baltimore was the term used to describe a second-floor end unit.

This kind of fact-checking can be fun, but it’s also important. We don’t want to have any errors in the work we put out there for the public to see, read, etc. Sometimes it’s just a matter of a quick google search, but we also go to much further lengths to make sure we’re getting things right. (In fact, the web must be used with much caution, since so many websites repeat errors and falsehoods.) So I’ll continue to trust Dean, but check up on him every once in awhile.

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